Managing director of Manchester Airport Karen Smart steps down after weeks of 'chaos'

The managing director of the troubled Manchester Airport has stepped down from her role after several weeks of chaos and delays caused by staff shortages.

Karen Smart has been in charge since August 2020, but has quit on the day political leaders and unions met with the airport bosses to discuss the "concerning" situation.

Karen Smart stepped down from her role as managing director which she has held since August 2020. Credit: Manchester Airport

Long delays, queues trailing outside terminals to reach check-in and piles of abandoned suitcases left by travellers are among the airport's recent problems.

In one case, a mother whose terminally ill daughter needs monthly treatment in Germany said she is dreading their next journey after experiencing chaotic queues.

Some staff have even quit their jobs out of fear for passenger safety.

Manchester Airport say they have struggled to recruit staff made redundant after the pandemic shutdown airports and travel.

Travelers last month waiting outside of the terminal. Credit: MEN Media

Manchester Airports Group (MAG) confirmed Karen Smart's departure from the business after eight years, with Ian Costigan taking on the role of Interim Managing Director.

A statement from MAG said Ms Smart was stepping down to "explore new career opportunities" in the south of England.

In statement, the MAG CEO Charlie Cornish said: “Over the last two years, Karen has guided Manchester Airport through the most challenging period of its 84-year history, having made a major contribution to MAG throughout her time with the business.

“I am sorry to lose Karen after her years of valuable service, but also understand her desire to return to the South for family reasons and indeed to explore new career opportunities.

“While there are sure to be further challenges ahead, I am confident we will soon start to see the benefits of the recovery plans Karen has helped put in place and look forward to working with Ian and his leadership team to drive them forward.”

Former managing director Karen Smart spoke to ITV Granada Reports at a jobs fair last month.

John O'Neill, North West Regional Industrial Officer for Unite, said union officials were set to meet management at Manchester Airport to discuss pay on Tuesday.

Mr O'Neill said: "There is a huge problem with recruitment, a massive problem with recruitment. This is the test for summer, the Easter break, is the test for summer.

"Summer is going to be far worse than this. It is the time to get everything in place otherwise summer is going to very difficult."

Manchester Airports Group is partly owned by the 10 local authorities of Greater Manchester, with the biggest stake held by Manchester Council.

The MAG airport site is currently offering jobs for drivers with a starting salary of £13,000 a year and security 'ambassador' jobs.

They site is targeting students, paying £10.53 per hour including night shifts, 3am starts, weekends and bank holidays.

According to the annual report for the airport, the director was paid £2.5m in 2021, a £500,000 increase on the previous year.

Airport bosses have apologised for the inconvenience, blaming the problems on staffing issues. Credit: PA images

Wigan's director of public health has also weighed in on the issue, calling it an example of the damage the re-emergence of Covid is doing to the working age population.

Professor Kate Ardern addressed the Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee at Wigan Town Hall as she delivered her latest covid update, the Local Democracy Reporting Service has said.

"Covid-19 is rapidly rising across the North West," Prof Kate Ardern said.

"We [Wigan] are not the highest in the North West, that is Cumbria and Lancashire. We are the fourth highest in Greater Manchester and we are seeing a rise in our over 60's rates.

"This is an under-representation [of the number of cases in reality] because we have had a change because as of April 1 lateral flow tests are not available for free. We are also seeing a rise in cases in the workforce population.

"You are seeing the issues at Manchester Airport at the moment because of this as well as a rise in admissions to hospital. Covid is absolutely not over."

Damaged bag is left in the terminal of Manchester Airport. Credit: MEN Media

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: "Bargain-basement wages and insecure jobs must be consigned to the past if the sector wants to get back on track.

"It is pretty simple - if you want to thrive, treat your workers with respect and don't attack their jobs, pay and conditions."

A spokesman for the airport has apologised to passengers but stressed the whole industry is facing staff shortages and a rapid increase in passenger numbers as the summer season begins.